Story by Evan Oscherwitz
While the 2020-21 season has been a challenge for just about every team in college hockey, few programs have experienced as many hardships as the Arizona State Sun Devils.
As an independent program, ASU’s options for putting together a schedule were slim at best. Inviting opponents to travel across the country during a pandemic was out of the question, so the Sun Devils made a deal with the Big Ten to play a 28-game schedule made up entirely of away games.
That arrangement has resulted in a wide variety of complications for ASU, who recently completed the second of three long road trips that make up their schedule. Injuries and disappointing results on the ice have been a commonality, but the biggest ordeal might be the realities of day-to-day life on the road.
No excuses. ?
— Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) January 17, 2021
“That’s the biggest thing for sure,” head coach Greg Powers said. “It’s been really odd and disjointed based on where we are but we’re making the most of it.”
Except for practice, games, and travel, the players and staff are confined to their hotel rooms, leaving them with few options for entertainment and only their roommates to keep them company.
Aside from schoolwork, movies and video games are two of the most popular time-killers. While the lack of distractions led to the highest cumulative semester GPA in team history, the overall entertainment situation leaves much to be desired.
— Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) January 8, 2021
“We do a couple movie marathons,” senior defenseman Jacob Wilson said. “One group did all the Star Wars marathons and another group did all the Marvel, the Avengers. That’s really about it, it’s all you can do.”
In addition to the lack of entertainment options, the team faces a less-than-ideal food situation. The hotel provides all of the team’s meals, and while the quality of the food has been up to par, the players have only been able to eat together on a few occasions due to bans on large gatherings in many of their host cities.
Meals would be one of the only opportunities for the team to spend quality time together while in the hotel, so the staff has to come up with creative solutions to offset the lack of team activities.
“We try to mix up what the roommates are as much as we can,” Powers said. “Team meals, it depends what state you’re in, if you can eat together or not, if you have to just get it and go to your room. Everything varies.”
Aside from time spent at the rink and the odd team meal, the team’s only real bonding opportunities are the long bus rides that take them from city to city.
Traveling long distances during the harsh Midwestern winter might not seem like the best way to build team chemistry, but it gives the players a chance to catch up with one another and make up for time lost while holed up in the hotel.
Card games, especially euchre, are common occurrences on these trips, which sometimes take as long as eight hours.
“We actually have two buses because we have so much cargo,” Powers said. “We’re able to socially distance a little more effectively that way, but it’s good. Whether it’s card games or just whatever.”
So far, the team’s travel schedule has not caused any logistical problems, though the same cannot be said about their practice schedule.
ASU must use its opponent’s arena for practices, and in many cases, they have to work around the schedule of the opposing school’s women’s team as well. The result is a constant balancing act that compromises the team’s ability to prepare for games, although they see it just another necessary sacrifice.
“The first trip to Madison, Penn State’s men’s team was at our hotel,” Powers said. “We got there so early before we played that Penn State was there playing them before us. We were dealing with their practice, our practice, the men’s practice, Wisconsin’s women’s team’s practice, but we got it done. We figured it out and it’s a huge credit to our operations staff.”
ASU’s 5-13-2 record this season would be considered a disappointment under normal circumstances, but it almost seems like a historic achievement given the amount of hoops they have had to jump through just to get on the ice.
Through the banality of life on the road, constant injuries and the looming threat of a COVID-19 outbreak, ASU has managed to win a third of their games against some of the best competition in the NCAA. Although the bubble hockey experience has not been a glamorous one, it should only make the team stronger moving forward.